The first traces of AIDS go back, it seems, to the 1920s.
The virus, transmitted to humans by monkeys, is said to have appeared in Cameroon and Congo.
But the lack of resources and technical knowledge would have prevented local doctors from spotting it among the many diseases circulating in the populations.
A historical hypothesis is that the virus was then brought to Haiti by teachers from this country who came to the Congo as reinforcements after its independence.
The island was then very popular with American homosexuals, who would have returned home infected.
Researchers discover the virus
On June 5, 1981, the United States Disease Surveillance and Prevention (CDC) reported a rare form of pneumonia in young California homosexuals.
It is quickly nicknamed “4H disease” for homosexuals, heroin addicts, hemophiliacs and Haitians, populations in which the virus was found in the early days.
These populations are still today victims of many prejudices concerning their link with AIDS.
In 1982, the research gives the virus its name: AIDS, or Sida in French for “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”.
In January 1983, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Jean-Claude Chermann, under the direction of Luc Montagnier, researchers at the Institut Pasteur, isolated the virus they called LAV.
A year later, it was the American specialist in retroviruses, Robert Gallo, who announced that he had found the cause of AIDS: a virus he called HTLV-III.
It is in fact the same virus, which is then renamed HIV.
A real conflict will oppose researchers for years to determine who really discovered the virus.
An incurable disease
In 1987, a first treatment was found. It is expensive, has many side effects and cannot cure the disease.
In 1994, AIDS became the leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 to 44.
In the mid-1990s, researchers developed a new treatment, triple therapies, which consisted of combining three different molecules.
They help control the infection and give patients an almost normal life expectancy.
Nowadays, no treatment allows a lasting cure of AIDS. But there are two cases in the world of people who got rid of the virus. The first, nicknamed “patient from Berlin”, in 2008, the second, “patient from London”, in 2020.